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The Tristán de Luna Expedition, 1559-1561

On June 11, 1559, a fleet of 11 Spanish ships departed the port of San Juan de Ulua in New Spain (at the modern city of Veracruz) with some 1,500 soldiers and other colonists, 240 horses, and well over a million pounds of food, bound for the shores of Florida at modern day Pensacola Bay.  Landing just over two months later after storm delays pushed them off course, the fleet landed and sent one ship back with news of their arrival, unloading people and equipment over the next five weeks, but leaving the food on board ship in order to protect it until shelter could be built on shore.  On September 19, a hurricane devastated 10 remaining ships at anchor, leaving only three afloat the next day.  The next two years comprised an increasingly desperate attempt to keep the colonists alive after the destruction of their food stores, including the short-lived relocation of the majority of the colonists inland to the Indian town of Nanipacana along the Alabama River, and a small but significant push northward to the town of Coosa located in Northwest Georgia in search of food to ship downriver.  Luna was replaced early in 1561, and the remnants of the colony withdrew before the end of the year.

The University of West Florida has been involved in research relating to the Luna expedition since the 1992 discovery of the Emanuel Point I wreck in Pensacola Bay, and has concentrated its efforts after a second ship (called Emanuel Point II) was found nearby in 2006.  Below are some basic statistics regarding the Luna Fleet, as well as both Spanish transcriptions and English translations of pivotal passages in some of the early documentation regarding the expedition. 

The two main published documentary sources about the expedition are available in electronic format, including the 1625 edition of Augustín Dávila Padilla's 1596 Historia de la Fundación y Discurso de la Provincia de Santiago de México de la Orden de Predicadores, por las vidas de sus varones insignes y casos Notables de Nueva España (pp. 189-229 for the Luna section), and Herbert Priestley's 1928 compilation of Spanish and English versions of many important documents called The Luna Papers, which has recently been reprinted with a new preface I wrote, and which is available in print or electronic form through the University of Alabama Press.

I plan to continue adding material to this page as I have time, so please revisit for updates. 

The Luna Fleet / Document Extracts


The Luna Fleet

Summary information on the Luna fleet is below; for more information on how this information was calculated, and what documentary sources it is based on, see my 2009 article in the Florida Anthropologist, Vol. 62, Nos. 3-4, pp.83-92.  The chart below summarizes the calculated tonnage and crew sizes as indicated in the list below it.

Luna fleet tonnage (Worth 2009)

Urca Jesús – Flagship  (lost in hurricane)

Tonnage: 570 tons

Crew: 40-50 (est.)

Owner: Francisco de Ecija

Master: Diego López

Pilot: Alonso Beltrán

Notes: Leased Jan. 24, 1559 for Luna expedition; crew discharged Sept. 9, 1559 in Pensacola.

 

Galleon San Juan de Ulua – Vice Flagship (lost in hurricane)

Tonnage: not less than 220 tons

Crew: 45

Owner: Spanish Crown

Master: Pedro de Andonasgui

Pilot: Diego Perez

Notes: Bought February 22, 1559 for Luna expedition; crew discharged Sept. 10, 1559 in Pensacola.

 

Galleon San Juan de Ulua (returned before hurricane)

Tonnage: unknown

Crew: unknown

Owner: Spanish Crown

Master: Hernán Pérez

Pilot: Constantín de San Remo

Notes: Built for expedition; returned to Mexico Aug. 25-Sept. 9, 1559; led relief efforts.

 

Ship San Andrés (lost in hurricane)

Tonnage: 492 ½ tons

Crew: 33 (est.)

Owner: Salvador Hernández

Master: Alonso Moraño  

Pilot: Francisco Martín

Notes: Leased Jan. 24, 1559 for Luna expedition; crew discharged Sept. 9, 1559 in Pensacola.

 

Ship Sancti Espiritus (lost in hurricane)

Tonnage: unknown

Crew: 18 (est.)

Owner: Spanish Crown

Master: Juan de Puerta

Pilot: Juan Valenciano

Notes: Bought Feb. 14, 1559 for Luna expedition; crew discharged Sept. 13, 1559 in Pensacola.

 

Ship San Amaro (lost in hurricane)

Tonnage: 145 tons

Crew: 18 (est.)

Owner: Felipe Boquín

Master: Christóbal de Escobar

Pilot: Antón Mançera

Notes: Leased Jan. 25, 1559 for Luna expedition; crew discharged Sept. 13, 1559 in Pensacola.

 

Ship Santa María de Ayuda (lost in hurricane)

Tonnage: 100 tons

Crew: 17 (est.)

Owner: Antón Martín

Master: Lazaro Morel

Pilot: Antón Martín Cordero

Notes: Leased Jan. 23, 1559 for Luna expedition.

 

Caravel Santi Espiritus (survived hurricane)

Tonnage: 242 tons

Crew: 24-25 (est.)

Owner: Alonso Carillo

Master: Alonso Carillo

Pilot: Gonzalo Gayón

Notes: Leased Jan. 24, 1559 for Luna expedition.

 

Bark Corpus Cristi (survived hurricane)

Tonnage: unknown

Crew: 11 (est.)

Owner: Spanish Crown   

Master: Francisco de Guadalupe     

Pilot: Christóbal Rodriguez

Notes: Bought May 20, 1559 for Luna expedition; crew discharged Sept. 19, 1559 in Pensacola.

 

Bark San Luís Aragón (survived hurricane)

Tonnage: unknown

Crew: unknown

Owner: Spanish Crown   

Master: Hernán Rodríguez           

Pilot: Gaspar González

Notes: Built for expedition; returned to Mexico Sept. 29-Oct. 5, 1559.

 

Bark La Salvadora (lost in hurricane)

Tonnage: unknown

Crew: 10 (est.)

Owner: Spanish Crown   

Master: Vicente Fernández          

Pilot: Vicente Fernández

Notes: Built for expedition; crew discharged Sept. 11, 1559 in Pensacola.


Extracts from Archival Sources regarding the Luna Disaster
transcribed and translated by John E. Worth, University of West Florida

The Bay and Settlement

Viceroy’s description of Pensacola Bay based on initial Luna report, Sept. 24, 1559:

“It is one of the best ports that there is among what has been discovered in the Indies.  The least water that the entrance has are eleven cubits, and having entered within, it has 7 to 8 fathoms, and it is a very spacious port, which has three leagues in width in front of where the Spaniards are now, and the entrance of the sound has a half league in width.  The entrance has very good signs, and it has a red bluff on the eastern side opening the bay, and the naos can be anchored in 4 or 5 fathoms at one crossbow-shot from land, and the port is so secure that no wind can do them any damage.  They found some few settlements of Indians which appear to be of fishermen.  The land is very good in its appearance.  In it there are many walnuts and grapes and other frutiferous trees, and many other trees, and much game and fowl, and much good fish of many varieties.  They also found a field of corn.”

“es uno de los mejores puertos que hai en lo descubierto de las Indias: la menos agua que tiene la entrada son once cobdos, i entrados dentro tiene a 7 i a 8 brazas, i es mui espacoioso puerto, que tiene tres leguas de ancho de frente donde estan agora los españoles, i la entrada de la barra tiene media legua de ancho, i tiene mui buenas señas a la entrada, que tiene una barranca vermeja a la banda del Leste abriendo la bahia, i pueden estar las naos surtas en 4 i 5 brazas a un tiro de vallesta de tierra, i es tan seguro el puerto, que ningun viento les puede hacer daño ninguno: hallaronse algunos pocos ranchos de indios que parescian ser de pescadores: la tierra es al parecer mui buena: hai en ella muchos nogales i ubas i otros arboles frutales, i otra mucha arboleda, i mucha caza i bolateria, i mucho pescado i mui bueno de muchas maneras: tambien hallaron una sementera de maiz.”


Luna’s description of Pensacola Bay, August or September, 1559

“Seamen say that it is the best [bay] that there is in the Indies, and the site that has been taken in order to establish the town is no less, because it is a point of high land that overlooks the bay where the ships arrive to anchor.  Of the land I have not discovered any secrets up to now.  It seems to be healthy.  It is a little sandy, on account of which I believe it will not produce much bread.  There are pines and oaks and many other types of trees.  Until now, there have only appeared on this bay some Indian fishermen.”

“honbres de mar dizen qs el mejor q hay en yndias y el sitio q se a tomado para asentar el pueblo no es menos por qs una punta d trra alta que cae sobre la baia adonde las naos llegan a surgir d la trra no he savido secreto ninguno asta ahora paresce qs sana es algo arenisca por donde creo que no dara mucho pan ay pinales y encinas y otras muchas maneras de arboles asta ahora no a parecido en esta baia sino algunos yndos pescadores”


Extract from Davila Padilla narrative regarding port and settlement:

“When  the new settlers saw themselves in such a passable place, for some days they enjoyed the freshness of the place and the gift of the tides.  Some seated themselves on the sand before the sun warmed up, and at sunset, when the afternoon cooled, the exercised the horses, displaying their finery and dexterity.  Others entered in the barks and cruised the shoreline.  Others considered it from land, regaling themselves with the view of the peaceful waves, which arrived gently at the beach, and without disturbance returned to the sea, as if they had thoughts and courtesy.  They arrived as if to greet those on land, returning immediately without perturbing them.  Finally those who were beyond [the waves], all rejoiced, because as much as it is a gift to walk next to the sea, it is likewise to sail next to the land.  But since the journey had not been undertaken to look for recreations or siestas, later they dealt with matters in earnest, and order was given to enter and discover the land, and give His Majesty news of what had occurred in fulfillment of his royal decree.  The Governor ordered a ship to be readied to go to Spain, and some people that would go in it, in order to depose in person, and report on the beauty of that port, and encourage the Spanish people to come settle that land.  It also seemed to the missionaries a suitable thing to send to Spain for friars, who would come assigned to that land, and that they should take a private ship in which they could come, with one of the missionaries who was there going for them…They prepared two ships for Spain, and also undertook tasks on land” 

“Quando se vieron los nuevos pobladores en ta[n] apazable puesto, gozaron por algunos dias de la frescura del lugar y regalo de la marea.  Unos se sentavan sobre el arena antes que el sol la calentasse, y otros quando enfriava la tarde a puesta del Sol, exercitavan los cavallos, mostrando su gala y destreza: otros se entravan en los barcos, y costeavan la ribera: otros la consideravan desde la tierra, regalandose con la vista de las olas mansas, q[ue] como si tuvieran seso y comedimiento llegavan a la playa blandamente, y sin desmandarse se bolvia a la mar.  Llegavan como a saludar a los de tierra, recogiendose luego sin perturbarlos; finalmente los q[ue] estavan fuera dellos todos se regozijavan: porq[ue] assi como es regalada cosa pasearse junto a la mar, assi lo es navegar junto a la tierra.  Pero como no avia sido el viaje para buscar recreaciones ni siestas, luego se trataron las cosas de veras, y se dio orden en entrar a descubrir la tierra, y dar a Su Magestad aviso de lo sucedido en cumplimiento de su real cedula.  Mando el Governador aprestar un navio para España, y algunas personas que en el fuessen, para deponer de vista, y referir la lindeza de aquel puerto, y animar a la gente Española para que viniesse a poblar aquella tierra.  Parecioles tambien a los religiosos cosa acertada embiar por frayles a España, que viniessen senalados para aquella tierra, y que se les llevasse navio particular en que viniessen, yendo por ellos uno de los religiosos que alli estavan…Apercibieronse dos navios para España, y hizieronse tambien diligencias por la tierra…”


Extract from estate sale of Juan Martín, deceased drummer, December 25, 1559:

“Santa Maria de Ochuze of the bay upon the point, of these provinces of Florida” (most likely translation)

“Santa Maria de Ochuze de la vaya sobre la punta destas provincias de la Florida”


The Storm and Aftermath 

Extract from Luna report to Spanish crown, Sept. 24, 1559, regarding the storm:

“During the night of the nineteenth of this month of September, there arose from the north a fierce storm which, running for twenty-four hours with winds in all [directions] up to the same hour that it began, not ceasing but instead always increasing, [and] it inflicted irreparable damage on the ships of the armada, with the loss of many sea men and passengers, both in their lives and with their possessions, grounding all the ships that were within this port, with it being one of the best that there is in all these Indies, except one caravel and two barks which escaped.”

“En la noche diez y nuebe deste mes de setiembre se lebanto de la parte del norte una tenpestad braba q[ue] corriendo por beinte y quatro oras por todos los biento hasta la misma ora q[ue] començara no parando syno sienpre yendo en crecimi.o hizo en las naos del harmada danos yrreparables con perdida de muchos honbres de la mar y pasajeros asi de sus bidas como de sus haziendas, echando al trabes las naos todas q[ue] dentro este puerto estavan con ser uno de los buenos q[ue] hen todas estas yndias ay açeto una carabela y dos barcas q[ue] [e]scaparon.”


Extract from Viceroy’s letter, Oct. 25, 1559, regarding the storm:

“The [letters] that Your Grace wrote me with Luis Daça on August 24 from the port of Santa Maria de Ochuse I received on September seventh, and on the 12th I had the news of your arrival at the port, which gave me as much contentment as misery on seeing that which Your Grace wrote me with Felipe Boquin on September 28.  The bark in which he and the rest of the masters and pilots came arrived in six days from that port to that of San Juan de Ulua, and yesterday, the 13th of the present [month] I received that which Your Grace wrote me.  Before I express my sentiment, I will respond to the first [letters]…at the hour that Luis Daza arrived, I provided that the galleon in which he came should be repaired, in conformity with the opinion of Gonçalo Gayon, the pilot, who returned immediately to the port to inquire about this, and also another medium-sized ship has been taken so that with the two they can carry the supplies that Your Grace requests with all possible brevity…By the [letter] that Your Grace wrote me on September 28, it seems that there were lost five topsail ships, with the galleon of Andonaguin, and one of the three barks.  The hurricane must have been fierce since it did such destruction.”

“Las q[ue] V.S. me escrivio con Luis Daça en XXIIII de Agosto del puerto de Santa Maria de Ochuse rescivi en siete de Setiembre y a los XII tuve la nueva de su llegada al puerto que me dio tanto contentami[ent]o como pena de ver la que V.S. me escrivio con Felipe Boquin a XXVIII de Septiembre.  La barca en q[ue] vinieron el y los demas maestres y pilotos llego en seis dias dende ese puerto al de San Juan de Ulua y ayer XIII del p[r]esente rescivi la que V.S. me escrivio y antes que diga my sentimiento rrespondere a las primeras…a la ora que Luis Daza llego provey q[ue] se rreparase el galeon en que vino conforme al paresçer de Gonçalo Gayon piloto el qual bolvio luego al puerto a entender en ello y tambien se tomo otro navio mediano p[ar]a que los dos con la presteza posible lleven los bastimentos q[ue] V.S. pide…Por la q[ue] V.S. me escrivio a XXVIII de Septiembre paresçe que se perdieron cinco navios de gavia con el galeon de Andonaguin y la una de las tres barcas bravo debio ser el huracan pues en tan buerto hizo tal rriza.”


Extracts from Davila Padilla narrative regarding the storm:

“All this shame was nothing with respect to what happened to the poor fleet that was anchored in the port, and to the two ships that were ready to leave for Castilla, and which were already at the point of departing, which were not waiting for the Governor, but rather for the return of those who had gone into the interior to bring some relation in order to send to the King.  Those who were to sail were already aboard, awaiting the hour to make sail.  On the twentieth of August [sic], and the seventh in the port, there began the most terrible storm, and the wildest north wind that man has ever seen.  As if the cables were strands of thread, and the anchors were not made of iron, thus they surrendered to the force of the air.  The ships came loose, and were broken into small pieces…” 

“Toda esta lastima fue nada, respecto de lo que sucedió a la pobre flota, que estava surta en el puerto, y a las dos naos que para Castilla se aprestavan, y estavan ya tan a punto de partirse, que no esperava el Governador sino que bolviessen los que avian ydo la tierra adentro, y traxessen alguna relacion que poder embiar al Rey.  Ya estavan embarcados los que avian de navegar, desseando la hora de hazerse a la vela.  A los veynte dias de Agosto [sic], y siete de puerto, comenco la mas terrible tormenta, y el mas descosido norte que jamas hombres vieron.  Como si los cables fueran hebras de hilo, y las ancoras no fuera de hierro, assi las rindio la fuerca del ayre.  Desamarro las naos, y hizolas menudas piecas…”


“…the greatest misfortune was to see that they had lost all their supplies, which had remained in the ships for greater security.  Since on land there was no house or shelter in order to collect them, it had seemed a better decision to them that the food should remain on the ships, where, anchored in a good port, and with strong cables and anchors, there was the promise of more security than existed in the end.  In the ships there was food enough for more than a year, even if the fifteen-hundred persons that where there had eaten to excess, but afterward they walked on the beach, hoping that the waves would make them some restitution of the great amount that the sea had robbed them, and everything that they recovered was little, although it was very esteemed on account of the necessity that had already begun to be felt…”

“…lo que sobre todo dava pena, era ver que se avia perdido todo el bastimento, que por mas seguridad se avia quedado en los navios.  Como en la tierra no avia casa ni abrigo donde recogerse, aviales parecido mejor acuerdo, que se quedasse la comida en las naos, que surtas en bue[n] puerto, y con rezios cables y ancoras prometia mas seguridad que la que despues huvo.  Avia en las naos comida bastante para mas de un año, aunque comiessen sobradamente las mil y quinientas personas que alli avia: pero despues andavan por la playa, esperando que las olas les hiziessen alguna restitucion de lo mucho que la mar les avia robado, y todo fue poco quanto sacaron, aunque fue muy estimado por la necessidad que ya se començava a sentir...”


“…They found in a dense grove of trees, which was one arquebus-shot from the port, an intact caravel, without lacking even one thing that was in it, and everyone went to see it as a prodigious thing, and each person recovered whatever had their sign and mark, without lacking even the smallest needle.  The grove was surrounded by very dense trees, and even if they failed to detain or break that ship, it should have been in the grove itself, where it seemed that it had been placed by hand, in order to hide it.  It is unbelievable that the waves had carried it, because they did not reach the grove, nor would they have left it so well-placed if they had carried it…”

“…Hallaro[n] en un arcabuco, que estava un tiro de arcabuz del puerto una caravela entera, sin faltarle cosa de quantas en ella estavan, y todos yvan a verla por cosa prodigiosa, y sacaron della cada qual lo que era de su senal y marca, sin que en todo ello huviese un alfiler de menoscabo.  El arcabuco estava rodeado de muy espesos arboles: y quando en ellos no se huviera detenido y quebrado aquel barcon, huviera sido en el mismo arcabuco; donde parece que fue puesto a mano, para esconderlo. No se puede creer que las olas le llevassen, porque ni llegaron al arcabuco, ni le dexaran alli tambien puesto, si le llevaran…”


“Those that made this entrance [into the interior] carried some little food with them, leaving those in the port with very little, and everything from the relief that remained of the first unloading which they made from the ships when they made landfall, and of some cargo which had washed up on the shore after the storm, although most of it had been lost in the water.”

“…Llevaron alguna comidilla consigo, los que hazian esta entrada, quedando con muy poca los del puerto, y todo de los relieves que quedaron de la primera saca que hizieron de los navios quando tomaron tierra, y de algun matalotaje que avia salido a la rivera despues de la torme[n]ta; aunque lo mas se avia perdido en el agua.”


Extract from testimony of Alonso de Montalban, August 11, 1561, regarding the storm:

“They arrived safely without lacking one man or ship at the port of Ochus, which is now called Polonça … and that after having brought forth on land the people and horses…and more than half of the supplies and all the tools and weapons, within twenty or twenty-five days, a little more or less, there struck a hurricane, which was a very great storm, with which were lost all the ships that were anchored in the aforementioned port, except for two barks and one caravel and a frigate which escaped in the said port, and the ship San Juan which the aforementioned Governor Don Tristan and the stated Field Master dispatched to the aforementioned New Spain to the said Viceroy with the news of how they had arrived at the stated port and disembarked safely, with which news there went the Factor Luis Daça..and having dispatched the said Factor Luis Daça to the aforementioned New Spain to give the stated news to the said Viceroy, the aforementioned Governor and the stated Field Master dispatched Sergeant Major Mateo de Sauz and Captain don Christobal de Arellano into the interior to discover a settlement called Ypacana…the aforementioned Field Master and all the captains and officials asked the said Governor to to go to the stated Ypacana with all the camp, so that they would not see themselves in such necessity of hunger, which they had seen because of the supplies that they had taken out of the ships having been soaked and damaged with the hurricane and the many rains, if there had not arrived at that time the ship San Juan, which Luis Daça took, and a bark which they had dispatched to the aforementioned señor Viceroy giving him news of what happened with the hurricane, and the necessity in which they were.  In the aforementioned ship and bark, the said señor Viceroy sent a quantity of supplies with great brevity…”

“..llegaron en salvamento sin faltar hombre ny navio alguno al puerto de Ochus que agora se llama Polança … e que despues de aver sacado en tierra la gente y cavallos … y mas de la mytad de los bastimentos y todas las herramyentas e armas dende en veynte o veynte y cinco dias poco mas o menos sobrevino un huracan que fue muy gran tormenta con la qual se perdieron todos los navios que estavan surtos en el d[ic]ho puerto eçeto dos barcas y una carabela y una fragata que escaparon en el d[ic]ho puerto y el navio San Ju[an] que el d[ic]ho governador don Tristan y el dho maestre de campo despacharon a la d[ic]ha Nueva España al d[ic]ho senor Visorrey con la nueba de cómo avian llegado al d[ic]ho puerto y del embarcado en salvalm[ien]to con la q[ual] d[ic]ha nueba fue el fator Luis Daça…y despachado el d[ic]ho fator Luis Daça a la dicha Nueba España a dar la d[ic]ha nueva al dicho señor Visorrey despacharon el d[ic]ho governador y el d[ic]ho maestre de campo al sargento mayor Mateo de Sauz e al capitan don Xpoval de Arellano la tierra adentro a que descubriesen una poblacion que se llamava Ypacana…el d[ic]ho maestre de campo y todos los capitanes y oficiales pidieron al d[ic]ho governador que fuese a la d[ic]ha Ypacana con todo el campo por que no se viesen en necessidad de hambre como se avian visto por averseles moxado y dañado con el uracan y las llubias muchas los bastim[ient]os que abian sacado de los nabios si no llegaron en aquel tiempo el navio San Juan que llevo Luis Daça y una barca que abian despachado al d[ic]ho señor Visorrey dandole aviso de lo sucedido del uracan y la necesidad en que estavan en el qual dicho navio y barca el d[ic]ho señor Virrey enbio cantidad de bastimentos con mucha brevedad…”


Extract from testimony of Christobal Velazquez, August 11, 1561

“They found out how in a hurricane that had struck were lost all the ships except a caravel and a bark, and the ship San Juan which had been dispatched to New Spain with the Factor Luis Daça before the said hurricane, to the señor Viceroy with the news of how they had arrived safely at the stated port, and seeing that a great part of the supplies had been lost in the aforementioned ships…”

“supieron como un uracan que avia sobrevenido se avian perdido todos los navios eceto una carabela y una barca y el navio San Juan que se avia despachado a la Nueva Espana con el fator Luis Daça antes del d[ic]ho huracan al señor Visorrey con la nueba de cómo avian llegado en salvamento al d[ic]ho puerto y que visto que mucha parte de los bastim[ent]os se avian perdido en los d[ic]hos navios…”


Extract from testimony of Miguel Sanchez Serrano, August 12, 1561 

“…having lost with the hurricane the greater part of [the supplies] that they brought from New Spain when they lost the ships, and soaked and damaged on land part of them which they had taken out of the aforementioned ships…”

“aberse perdido con el uracan la mayor parte de los [bastimentos] que traxeron de la Nueba Espana quando se perdieron los nabios e moxad[os] e dañadoseles en tierra parte de los que sacaron a ella de los d[ic]hos navios…”

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